Dissociated neural representations of intensity and valence in human olfaction

Nat Neurosci. 2003 Feb;6(2):196-202. doi: 10.1038/nn1001.


Affective experience has been described in terms of two primary dimensions: intensity and valence. In the human brain, it is intrinsically difficult to dissociate the neural coding of these affective dimensions for visual and auditory stimuli, but such dissociation is more readily achieved in olfaction, where intensity and valence can be manipulated independently. Using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we found amygdala activation to be associated with intensity, and not valence, of odors. Activity in regions of orbitofrontal cortex, in contrast, were associated with valence independent of intensity. These findings show that distinct olfactory regions subserve the analysis of the degree and quality of olfactory stimulation, suggesting that the affective representations of intensity and valence draw upon dissociable neural substrates.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / anatomy & histology
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Smell / physiology*